Category: Pet Science Weekly

Confused About Dog Genetic Tests? This Database Can Help

A host of companies promote dog genetic tests to pet parents, breeders, and veterinary healthcare providers.  The number of choices can be overwhelming.  A new database will make the choice easier.

The problem

The recent proliferation of laboratory tests analyzing canine DNA has opened up a world of new information for researchers, breeders, veterinarians, and pet parents.  But there are no harmonized, mandatory standards for the diagnostic laboratories running veterinary tests.  Accreditation via different agencies is voluntary.  Without harmonized quality standards, the performance of tests from different labs may be very different, and some tests may not be reliable.

The invention of testing methods has also outpaced the availability of the underlying research to the general public.  As a result, pet parents, breeders, and veterinarians may not have all the information they need to make a decision about which tests to use and how to interpret the results.

The solution

In order to help the animal health community make informed decisions about genetic testing, the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) has created a database of 18 genetic testing providers (GTP) and 300 specific genetic tests.  The database provides information about the quality standards, accreditation, and expertise of providers.  Users of the database will also find detailed information about the clinical use and background for each specific genetic test.  The database will help the user to understand the science that supports the genetic tests.

How it works

Users of the database may search by breed, by specific test, or by laboratory provider. The IPFD recommends that you get familiar with the site before running your first search.  On the left of the home screen (circled in the screenshot below) you will find links to information about how to use the database, types of accreditation, breed-specific health recommendations, and basics of genetic testing.

genetic testing for dogs, IPFD, database,dog genetic tests

Dog genetic tests have great potential to improve the health and well-being of dogs.  Knowledge about genetic mutations in individual dogs can lead to better preventive medicine, more effective treatments, and responsible breeding practices.  The IPFD is working to harmonize quality standards to make the promise of genetic testing for dogs a reality.

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Citizen Science: Understanding Breed-Specific Behavior and Dog Genetics

How well can we identify the breeds in a mixed-breed dog by appearance alone? How much is breed-specific behavior influenced by the way different breeds are treated?  Now you can help scientists find out!

The Mutt-Mix Project

Darwin’s Dogs and the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants are collaborating to learn more about the ways small changes in the DNA of dogs over time have influenced canine behavior.  Project Mutt-Mix uses a citizen science survey to gather information about how well people can identify dog breeds in a mixed-breed animal.

The survey is the first step towards a larger goal of understanding how people perceive different breeds, and how this perception influences our relationship to dogs.

You don’t have to be a dog parent to participate!  Anyone will be able to test his/her breed recognition skills through a short survey.  Participants will receive a certificate of participation as well as the answers to the survey in about two months  This survey hasn’t launched, but those who are interested can sign up now.

A better understanding of breed-specific behaviors may help to prevent breed discrimination.  This knowledge may also help advance training techniques to better match breed characteristics and owner expectations.

Darwin’s Dogs

Darwin’s Dogs is run by the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and UMass Medical School.  The project studies canine genetics to understand and to develop treatments for psychiatric and neurological disease in both humans and animals.  Like the Mutt-Mix project, Darwin’s Dogs relies on citizen science surveys.

Participating dog owners complete a series of brief surveys.  Once an owner completes ten surveys, they are eligible to submit a saliva sample for their dog.  From each sample analyzed, owners will receive information about their dog’s genetics and breed.  Scientists will compare the genetic information to behavioral data provided by the owner.  Scientists will not analyze every sample submitted.  Instead, the scientists will select samples for analysis based on the needs of the project.  Enroll your dog(s) at Darwin’s Dogs enroll to begin.

Get involved

Together, the Mutt-Mix project and Darwin’s Dogs provide an opportunity for dog lovers to contribute to science.  Sign up today and get started.

What do you think?  Are you already participating in Darwin’s Dogs?  Comment below to share your story.

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Your Dog Smells and Mirrors Your Emotions

You are convinced your dog understands you better than anyone else.  Maybe you’re right. A newly published study by Biagio D’Aniello of the University of Naples “Federico II” found that dogs respond in predictable ways to chemosignals from people in different emotional states.  In this study, sweat was collected from men who watched videos that evoked fear or happiness.   Dogs were exposed to sweat dispensers randomly loaded with sweat from fearful or happy men, or no sweat (control).  The dogs’ owner and a stranger were also present.  Scientists recorded the dogs behavior, noting activities like approaching, interacting, and gazing.  They also noted whether the behaviors were directed at the owner, the stranger, or the sweat dispenser.  Dogs interacted less with owners and more with strangers when exposed to the “happy” sweat.  They interacted more with their owners and exhibited fear behavior when in the presence of the “fearful” sweat.  Heart rate data also indicated that dogs exposed to sweat from fearful people were more stressed than those exposed to sweat from happy people.

These results indicate that not only does your dog understand you, but he also senses the emotions of strangers.  This may be important when you and your dog are in a public place and exposed to people who may be afraid of dogs or who may be having a bad day.  (Anger was not tested in this study, but it’s a safe bet that dogs modify their behavior in the presence of angry people).  Dog trainers know that one of the keys to successfully controlling your dog is to control your own emotions.  This study provides further evidence that the best thing you can do for your dog in a stressful situation is to remain calm and positive.  Not only will your dog read your facial expressions, she will also read your scent.

 

 

New Evidence for Dog Self Awareness

The mirror test, in which animals are asked to demonstrate that they recognize their mirror image as “self” has become the gold standard to assess self awareness in animals.  Few pass the test, including non-human primates, an elephant, dolphins, and a magpie. But how relevant is the test for species whose primary mode of identification may not be visual?  Or species that lack the ability to demonstrate that they have recognized themselves?

Behavioral scientists have gone to great lengths to identify an alternative to the mirror test.  Marc Bekoff of the University of Colorado,  Boulder, went so far as to play with yellow snow to demonstrate that his dog recognized his own urine.

A recently published study took that work a step further and revealed that dogs may identify themselves through scent.  The controlled experiment, published in Behavioural Processes (Horowitz, A., Smelling themselves: Dogs investigate their own odors longer when modified in an “olfactory mirror” test, Behav Processes 2017;143:17-24).

In this study, dogs spent less time examining their own urine in contrast to either their own urine modified with a foreign odor, or the foreign odor alone. The dogs spent longer with the modified urine than with the foreign odor, indicating that novelty alone does not explain the behavior. The author concludes that this study, like others of its kind, demonstrates a partial self-recognition.

What about cats?  In spite of claims that some cats have passed the mirror test, because cats do react to images in mirrors, no cat has definitively passed this test.  Research on self-awareness in cats lags behind the work being done in dogs.

For those who live with cats or dogs, the idea that they do not have even a limited sense of self-awareness is unthinkable.  Our experiences with our animals suggest that the problem does not lie with animal awareness, but with our ability to evaluate it in a controlled study.

What do you think?  Let us know!

NYT Story

Camplylobacteriosis traced to pet store puppies in several states

Original article

Everyone knows dog poop is gross and stinky.  But worse than that, it can sometimes carry disease.  Even trace amounts that you can get from handling a little puppy can cause big problems if simple preventative measures are not taken.

This NPR article is one of many that have been circulating over the past few days describes one of the most recent, and thankfully, uncommon events of this kind.  Camplyobacter is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea in a wide range of animals, and can be easily transmitted between animals, or from animals to careless people.  It’s generally not a serious condition, and can be treated easily with antibiotics, but still a nuisance and gives puppies a bad name.

Other kinds of bacteria and parasites can be transmitted from pets to people, including Salmonella, E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidia.  Typically, avoidance, wearing gloves while cleaning, and hand washing with soap and water is all you need to do to prevent transmission from poo to you.